Let us suppose the guests assembled. To such a morning-meal they would not be summoned by slaves, nor be received in such solemn state as at feasts. First, each would observe, as a religious rite, 'the washing of hands.' Next, the head of the house would cut a piece from the whole loaf - on the Sabbath there were two loaves - and speak the blessing. But this, only if the company reclined at table, as at dinner. If they sat, as probably always at the early meal, each would speak the benediction for himself. The same rule applied in regard to the wine. Jewish casuistry had it, that one blessing sufficed for the wine intended as part of the meal. If other wine were brought in during the meal, then each one would have to say the blessing anew over it; if after the meal (as was done on Sabbaths and feast-days, to prolong the feast by drinking), one of the company spoke the benediction for all.
At the entertainment of this Pharisee, as indeed generally, our Lord omitted the prescribed 'washing of hands' before the meal. But as this rite was in itself indifferent, He must have had some definite object, which will be explained in the sequel. The externalism of all these practices will best appear from the following account which the Talmud gives of 'a feast.' As the guests enter, they sit down on chairs, and water is brought to them, with which they wash one hand. After this the cup is taken, when each speaks the blessing over the wine partaken of before dinner. Presently they all lie down at table. Water is again brought them, with which they now wash both hands, preparatory to the meal, when the blessing is spoken over the bread, and then over the cup, by the chief person at the feast, or else by one selected by way of distinction. The company responded by Amen, always supposing the benediction to have been spoken by an Israelite, not a heathen, slave, nor law-breaker. Nor was it lawful to say it with an unlettered man, although it might be said with a Cuthaean (heretic, or else Samaritan), who was learned.
After dinner the crumbs, if any, are carefully gathered - hands are again washed, and he who first had done so leads in the prayer of thanksgiving. The formula in which he is to call on the rest to join him, by repeating the prayers after him, is prescribed, and differs according to the number of those present. The blessing and the thanksgiving are allowed to be said not only in Hebrew, but in any other language.
In regard to the position of the guests, we know that the uppermost seats were occupied by the Rabbis. The Talmud formulates it in this manner: That the worthiest lies down first, on his left side, with his feet stretching back. If there are two 'cushions' (divans), the next worthiest reclines above him, at his left hand; if there are three cushions, the third worthiest lies below him who had lain down first (at his right), so that the chief person is in the middle (between the worthiest guest at his left and the less worthy one at his right hand).
The water before eating is first handed to the worthiest, and so in regard to the washing after meat. But if a very large number are present, you begin after dinner with the least worthy, till you come to the last five, when the worthiest in the company washes his hands, and the other four after him. The guests being thus arranged, the head of the house, or the chief person at table, speaks the blessing, and then cuts the bread. By some it was not deemed etiquette to begin eating till after he who had said the prayer had done so, but this does not seem to have been the rule among the Palestinian Jews. Then, generally, the bread was dipped into salt, or something salted, etiquette demanding that where there were two they should wait one for the other, but not where there were three or more.
This is not the place to furnish what may be termed a list of menus at Jewish tables. In earlier times the meal was, no doubt, very simple. It became otherwise when intercourse with Rome, Greece, and the East made the people familiar with foreign luxury, while commerce supplied its requirements. Indeed, it would scarcely be possible to enumerate the various articles which seem to have been imported from different, and even distant, countries.
To begin with: the wine was mixed with water, and, indeed, some thought that the benediction should not be pronounced till the water had been added to the wine. According to one statement, two parts, according to another, three parts, of water were to be added to the wine. Various vintages are mentioned: among them a red wine of Saron, and a black wine. Spiced wine was made with honey and pepper. Another mixture, chiefly used for invalids, consisted of old wine, water, and balsam; yet another was 'wine of myrrh;' we also read of a wine in which capers had been soaked. To these we should add wine spiced, either with pepper, or with absinthe; and what is described as vinegar, a cooling drink made either of grapes that had not ripened, or of the lees. Besides these, palm-wine was also in use. Of foreign drinks, we read of wine from Ammon, and from the province Asia, the latter a kind of 'must' boiled down. Wine in ice came from the Lebanon; a certain kind of vinegar from Idumaea; beer from Media and Babylon; a barley-wine (zythos) from Egypt. Finally, we ought to mention Palestinian apple-cider, and the juice of other fruits. If we adopt the rendering of some, even liqueurs were known and used.
Long as this catalogue is, that of the various articles of food, whether native or imported, would occupy a much larger space. Suffice it that, as regarded the various kinds of grain, meat, fish, and fruits. either in their natural state or preserved, it embraced almost everything known to the ancient world. At feasts there was an introductory course, consisting of appetising salted meat, or of some light dish. This was followed by the dinner itself, which finished with dessert consisting of pickled olives, radishes and lettuce, and fruits, among which even preserved ginger from India is mentioned. The most diverse and even strange statements are made as to the healthiness, or the reverse, of certain articles of diet, especially vegetables.
Fish was a favorite dish, and never wanting at a Sabbath-meal. It was a saying, that both salt and water should be used at every meal, if health was to be preserved. Condiments, such as mustard or pepper, were to be sparingly used. Very different were the meals of the poor. Locusts - fried in flour or honey, or preserved - required, according to the Talmud, no blessing, since the animal was really among the curses of the land. Eggs were a common article of food, and sold in the shops. Then there was a milk-dish into which people dipped their bread. Others, who were better off, had a soup made of vegetables, especially onions, and meat, while the very poor would satisfy the cravings of hunger with bread and cheese, or bread and fruit, or some vegetables, such as cucumbers, lentils, beans, peas, or onions.
At meals the rules of etiquette were strictly observed, especially as regarded the sages. Indeed, two tractates are added to the Talmud, of which the one describes the general etiquette, the other that of 'sages,' and the title of which may be translated by 'The Way of the World', being a sort of code of good manners. According to some, it was not good breeding to speak while eating. The learned and most honored occupied not only the chief places, but were sometimes distinguished by a double portion.
According to Jewish etiquette, a guest should conform in everything to his host, even though it were unpleasant. Although hospitality was the greatest and most prized social virtue, which, to use a Rabbinic expression, might make every home a sanctuary and every table an altar, an unbidden guest, or a guest who brought another guest, was proverbially an unwelcome apparition. Sometimes, by way of self-righteousness, the poor were brought in, and the best part of the meal ostentatiously given to them. At ordinary entertainments, people were to help themselves. It was not considered good manners to drink as soon as you were asked, but you ought to hold the cup for a little in your hand. But it would be the height of rudeness, either to wipe the plates, to scrape together the bread, as though you had not had enough to eat, or to drop it, to the inconvenience of your neighbor. If a piece were taken out of a dish, it must of course not be put back; still less must you offer from your cup or plate to your neighbor.
From the almost religious value attaching to bread, we scarcely wonder that these rules were laid down: not to steady a cup or plate upon bread, nor to throw away bread, and that after dinner the bread was to be carefully swept together. Otherwise, it was thought, demons would sit upon it. The 'Way of the World' for Sages, lays down these as the marks of a Rabbi: that he does not eat standing; that he does not lick his fingers; that he sits down only beside his equals - in fact, many regarded it as wrong to eat with the unlearned; that he begins cutting the bread where it is best baked, nor ever breaks off a bit with his hand; and that, when drinking, he turns away his face from the company. Another saying was that the sage was known by four things: at his cups, in money matters, when angry, and in his jokes. After dinner, the formalities concerning handwashing and prayer, already described, were gone through, and then frequently aromatic spices burnt, over which a special benediction was pronounced. We have only to add, that on Sabbaths it was deemed a religious duty to have three meals, and to procure the best that money could obtain, even though one were to save and fast for it all the week. Lastly, it was regarded as a special obligation and honor to entertain sages.
We have no difficulty now in understanding what passed at the table of the Pharisee. When the water for purification was presented to Him, Jesus would either refuse it; or if, as seems more likely at a morning-meal, each guest repaired by himself for the prescribed purification, He would omit to do so, and sit down to meat without this formality. No one, who knows the stress which Pharisaism laid on this rite would argue that Jesus might have conformed to the practice. Indeed, the controversy was long and bitter between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel, on such a point as whether the hands were to be washed before the cup was filled with wine, or after that, and where the towel was to be deposited. With such things the most serious ritual inferences were connected on both sides. A religion which spent its energy on such trivialities must have lowered the moral tone. All the more that Jesus insisted so earnestly, as the substance of His Teaching, on that corruption of our nature which Judaism ignored, and on that spiritual purification which was needful for the reception of His doctrine, would He publicly and openly set aside ordinances of man which diverted thoughts of purity into questions of the most childish character.
On the other hand, we can also understand what bitter thoughts must have filled the mind of the Pharisee, whose guest Jesus was, when he observed His neglect of the cherished rite. It was an insult to himself, a defiance of Jewish Law, a revolt against the most cherished traditions of the Synagogue. Remembering that a Pharisee ought not to sit down to a meal with such, he might feel that he should not have asked Jesus to his table. All this, as well as the terrible contrast between the punctiliousness of Pharisaism in outward purifications, and the inward defilement which it never sought to remove, must have lain open before Him Who read the inmost secrets of the heart, and kindled His holy wrath. Probably taking occasion (as previously suggested) from something that had passed before, He spoke with the point and emphasis which a last appeal to Pharisaism demanded.
What our Lord said on this occasion will be considered in detail in another place. Suffice it hear to mark, that He first exposed the mere externalism of the Pharisaic law of purification, to the utter ignoring of the higher need of inward purity, which lay at the foundation of all. If the primary origin of the ordinance was to prevent the eating of sacred offerings in defilement, were these outward offerings not a symbol of the inward sacrifice, and was there not an inward defilement as well as the outward? To consecrate what we had to God in His poor, instead of selfishly enjoying it, would not, indeed, be a purification of them (for such was not needed), but it would, in the truest sense, be to eat God's offerings in cleanness. We mark here a progress and a development, as compared with the former occasion when Jesus had publicly spoken on the same subject. Formerly, He had treated the ordinance of the Elders as a matter not binding; now, He showed how this externalism militated against thoughts of the internal and spiritual. Formerly, He had shown how traditionalism came into conflict with the written Law of God: now, how it superseded the first principles which underlay that Law. Formerly, He had laid down the principle that defilement came not from without inwards, but from within outwards; now, He unfolded this highest principle that higher consecration imparted purity.
Our Lord shows how Pharisaism, as regarded the outer, was connected with the opposite tendency as regarded the inner man: outward purification with ignorance of the need of that inward purity, which consisted in God-consecration, and with the neglect of it; strictness of outward tithing with ignorance and neglect of the principle which underlay it, viz., the acknowledgment of God's right over mind and heart (judgment and the love of God); while, lastly, the Pharisaic pretence of separation, and consequent claim to distinction, issued only in pride and self-assertion. Thus, tried by its own tests, Pharisaism terribly failed. It was hypocrisy, although that word was not mentioned till afterwards; and that both negatively and positively: the concealment of what it was, and the pretension to what it was not. And the Pharisaism which pretended to the highest purity, was, really, the greatest impurity - the defilement of graves, only covered up, not to be seen of men!
They did bind on heavy burdens, but they never loosed one; all those grievous burdens of traditionalism they laid on the poor people, but not the slightest effort did they make to remove any of them. Tradition, the ordinances that had come down - they would not reform nor put aside anything, but claim and proclaim all that had come down from the fathers as a sacred inheritance to which they clung.
Jesus heals at Pool of Bethesda during 'unknown feast' *
"After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And there is in Jerusalem at the sheep gate a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five porches. And in these porches were lying a great multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame and withered. They were waiting for the stirring of the water. For from time to time, an angel descended into the pool and agitated the water; and the first one to enter after the agitation of the water was made well from whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had been suffering with an infirmity for thirty-eight years.
"Jesus saw him lying there, and, knowing that he had been there a long time, said to him, "Do you desire to be made whole?" And the infirm man answered Him, "Sir, I do not have anyone to put me in the pool after the water has been agitated. But while I am going, another one steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Arise, take up your bedroll and walk." And immediately the man was made whole; and he took up his bedroll and walked. Now that day was a Sabbath. For this reason, the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath day. It is not lawful for you to take up your bedroll."
" He answered them, "The one Who made me whole said to me, 'Take up your bedroll and walk.' "Then they asked him, "Who is the one Who said to you, 'Take up your bedroll and walk'? " But the man who had been healed did not know Who it was, for Jesus had moved away, and a crowd was in the place. After these things, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you have been made whole. Sin no more, so that something worse does not happen to you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus Who had made him whole." (John 5:1-15, HBFV)
The shorter days of early autumn had come, and the country stood in all its luxurious wealth of beauty and fruitfulness, as Jesus passed from Galilee to Jerusalem.
The narrative transports us at once to what, at the time, seems to have been a well-known locality in Jerusalem - Bethesda. The pool was enclosed within five porches, by the sheep-market, presumably close to the 'Sheep-Gate.' This, as seems most likely, opened from the busy northern suburb of markets, bazaars, and workshops, eastwards upon the road which led over the Mount of Olives and Bethany to Jericho.
All this is, however, of very subordinate importance, compared with the marvellous facts of the narrative itself. In the five porches surrounding this pool lay 'a great multitude of the impotent,' in anxious hope of a miraculous cure. We can picture to ourselves the scene. The popular superstitions, which gave rise to what we would regard as a peculiarly painful exhibition of human misery of body and soul, is strictly true to the times and the people. Even now travellers describe a similar concourse of poor crippled sufferers, on their miserable pallets or on rugs, around the mineral springs near Tiberias, filling, in true Oriental fashion, the air with their lamentations. In the present instance there would be even more occasion for this than around any ordinary thermal spring.
The popular idea was that an Angel descended into the water, causing it to bubble up, and that only he who first stepped into the pool would be cured. As thus only one person could obtain benefit, we may imagine the lamentations of the 'many' who would, perhaps, day by day, be disappointed in their hopes. This bubbling up of the water was, of course, due not to supernatural but to physical causes. Such intermittent springs are not uncommon, and to this day the so-called 'Fountain of the Virgin' in Jerusalem exhibits the phenomenon. It is scarcely necessary to say, that the Gospel-narrative does not ascribe this 'troubling of the waters' to Angelic agency, nor endorses the belief, that only the first who afterwards entered them, could be healed. This was evidently the belief of the impotent man, as of all the waiting multitude.
With all reverence, we can in some measure understand, what feelings must have stirred the heart of Jesus, in view of this suffering, waiting multitude. Why, indeed, did He go into those five porches, since He had neither disease to cure, nor cry for help and come to Him from those who looked for relief to far other means? Not, surely, from curiosity. But as one longs to escape from the stifling atmosphere of a scene of worldly pomp, with its glitter and unreality, into the clearness of the evening-air, so our Lord may have longed to pass from the glitter and unreality of those who held rule in the Temple, or who occupied the seat of Moses in their Academies, to what was the atmosphere of His Life on earth, His real Work, among that suffering, ignorant multitude, which, in its sorrow, raised a piteous, longing cry for help where it had been misdirected to seek it.
And thus we can here also perceive the deep internal connection between Christ's miracle of healing 'the impotent man' and the address of mingled sadness and severity, in which He afterwards set before the Masters in Israel the one truth fundamental in all things. We have only, so to speak, to reverse the formal order and succession of that discourse, to gain an insight into what prompted Jesus to go to Bethesda, and by His power to perform this healing. He had been in the Temple at the Feast; He had necessarily been in contact - it could not be otherwise, when in the Temple - with the great ones of Israel. What a stifling atmosphere there of glitter and unreality! What had He in common with those who 'received glory one of another, and the glory which cometh from the One only God' they sought not? How could such men believe?
The first meaning, and the object of His Life and Work, was as entirely different from their aims and perceptions, as were the respective springs of their inner being. They clung and appealed to Moses; to Moses, whose successors they claimed to be, let them go! Their elaborate searching and sifting of the Law in hope that, by a subtle analysis of its every particle and letter, by inferences from, and a careful drawing of a prohibitive hedge around, its letter, they would possess themselves of eternal life, what did it all come to? Utterly self-deceived, and far from the truth in their elaborate attempts to outdo each other in local ingenuity, they would, while rejecting the Messiah sent from God, at last become the victims of a coarse Messianic impostor. And even in the present, what was it all? Only the letter - the outward! All the lessons of their past miraculous history had been utterly lost on them. What had there been of the merely outward in its miracles and revelations? It had been the witness of the Father; but this was the very element which, amidst their handling of the external form, they perceived not. Nay, not only the unheard Voice of the Father, but also the heard voice of the Prophets - a voice which they might have heard even in John the Baptist.
They heard, but did not perceive it - just as, in increasing measure, Christ's sayings and doings, and the Father and His testimony, were not perceived. And so all hastened on to the judgment of final unbelief, irretrievable loss, and self-caused condemnation. It was all utterly mistaken; utter, and, alas! guilty perversion, their elaborate trifling with the most sacred things, while around them were suffering, perishing men, stretching 'lame hands' into emptiness, and wailing out their mistaken hopes into the eternal silence.
While they were discussing the niceties of what constituted labor on a Sabbath, such as what infringed its sacred rest or what constituted a burden, multitudes of them who labored and were heavy laden were left to perish in their ignorance. That was the Sabbath, and the God of the Sabbath of Pharisaism; this the rest, the enlightenment, the hope for them who labored and were heavy laden, and who longed and knew not where to find the true Sabbath. But the God Who ever worked in love, Whose rest was to give rest, Whose Sabbath to remove burdens, was His Father. He knew Him; He saw His working; He was in fellowship of love, of work, of power with Him. He had come to loose every yoke, to give life, to bring life, to be life - because He had life: life in its fullest sense. For, contact with Him, whatever it may be, gives life: to the diseased, health; to the spiritually dead, the life of the soul; to the dead in their graves, the life of resurrection. And all this was the meaning of Holy Scripture, when it pointed forward to the Lord's Anointed; and all this was not merely His own, but the Father's Will - the Mission which He had given Him, the Work which He had sent Him to do.
Translate this into deed, as all His teachings have been, are, and will be, and we have the miraculous cure of the impotent man, with its attendant circumstances. Or, conversely, translate that deed, with its attendant circumstances, into words, and we have the discourse of our Lord. Moreover, all this is fundamental to the highest understanding of our Lord's history. And, therefore, we understand how, many years afterwards, the beloved disciple gave a place to this miracle, when, in the full ripeness of spiritual discernment, he chose for record in his Gospel from among those 'many signs,' which Jesus truly did, only five as typical, like the five porches of the great Bethesda of His help to the impotent, or like the five divisions into which the Psalter of praise was arranged.
And so, understanding from what He afterwards said to 'the Jews' what He thought and felt in going thither, we are better prepared to follow the Christ to Bethesda. Two pictures must have been here simultaneously present to His mind. On the one side, a multitude whose sufferings and false expectancies rose, like the wail of the starving for bread; and, on the other side, the neighboring Temple, with its priesthood and teachers, who, in their self-seeking and the trifling of their religious externalism, neither understood, heard, nor would have cared for such a cry. If there was an Israel, Prince with God, and if there was a God of the Covenant, this must not, cannot be; and Christ goes to Bethesda as Israel's Messiah, the Truth, and the Life. There was twofold suffering there, and it were difficult to know which would have stirred Him most: that of the body, or the mistaken earnestness which so trustfully looked for Heaven's relief - yet within such narrow limits as the accident or good fortune of being first pushed into the Angel-troubled waters.
But this was also a true picture of His people in their misery, and in their narrow notions of God and of the conditions of His blessing. And now Israel's Messiah had at last come. What would we expect Him to have done? Surely not to preach controversial or reformatory doctrines; but to do, if it were in Him, and in doing to speak. And so in this also the Gospel-narrative proves itself true, by telling that He did, what alone would be true in a Messiah, the Son of God. It is, indeed, impossible to think of Incarnate Deity - and this, be it remembered, is the fundamental postulate of the Gospels - as brought into contact with misery, disease, and death without their being removed. That power went forth from Him always, everywhere, and to all, is absolutely necessary, if He was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And so the miracles, as we mistakingly term the result of the contact of God with man, of the Immanuel (God with us), are not only the golden ladder which leads up to the Miracle, God manifest in the flesh, but the steps by which He descends from His height to our lowliness.
The waters had not yet been 'troubled,' when He stood among that multitude of sufferers and their attendant friends. It was in those breathless moments of the intense suspense of expectancy, when every eye was fixed on the pool, that the eye of the Savior searched for the most wretched object among them all. In him, as a typical case, could He best do and teach that for which He had come. This 'impotent' man, for thirty-eight years a hopeless sufferer, without attendant or friend among those whom misery - in this also the true outcome of sin - made so intensely selfish; and whose sickness was really the consequence of his sin, and not merely in the sense which the Jews attached to it - this now seemed the fittest object for power and grace. For, most marked in this history is the entire spontaneity of our Lord's help. It is idle to speak either of faith or of receptiveness on the man's part. The essence of the whole lies in the utter absence of both; in Christ's raising, as it were, the dead, and calling the things that are not as though they were.
This, the fundamental thought concerning His Mission and power as the Christ shines forth as the historical background in Christ's subsequent, explanatory discourse. The 'Do you desire to be made whole?' with which Jesus drew the man's attention to Himself, was only to probe and lay bare his misery. And then came the word of power, or rather the power spoken forth, which made him whole every whit. Away from this pool, in which there was no healing; away - for the Son of God had come to him with the outflowing of His power and pitying help, and he was made whole.
In the general absorbedness of all around, no ear, but that to which it had been spoken, had heard what the Savior had said. The waters had not been troubled, and the healing had been all unseen. Before the healed man, scarcely conscious of what had passed, had, with new-born vigour, gathered, himself up and rolled together his coverlet to hasten after Him, Jesus had already withdrawn. In that multitude, all thinking only of their own sorrows and wants, He had come and gone unobserved. But they all now knew and observed this miracle of healing, as they saw this unbefriended and most wretched of them all healed, without the troubling of waters or first immersion in them. Then there was really help in Israel, and help not limited to such external means! How could Christ have taught that multitude, nay, all Jerusalem and Jewry, all this, as well as all about Himself, but by what He did? And so we learn here also another aspect of miracles, as necessary for those who, weary of Rabbinic wrangling, could, in their felt impotence, only learn by what He did that which He would say.
We know it not, but we cannot believe that on that day, nor, perhaps, thenceforth on any other day, any man stepped for healing into the bubbling waters of Bethesda. Rather would they ask the healed man, Whose was the word that had brought him healing? But he knew Him not. Forth he stepped into God's free air, a new man. It was truly the holy Sabbath within, as around him; but he thought not of the day, only of the rest and relief it had brought. It was the holy Sabbath, and he carried on it his bed. If he remembered that it was the Sabbath, on which it was unlawful (based on Jewish tradition, NOT on the fourth commandment!) to carry forth anything - a burden, he would not be conscious that it was a burden, or that he had any burden; but very conscious that He, Who had made him whole, had bidden him take up his bed and walk. These directions had been bound up with the very word ('Rise') in which his healing had come. That was enough for him. And in this lay the beginning and root of his inward healing. Here was simple trust, unquestioning obedience to the unseen, unknown, but real Savior. For he believed Him, and therefore trusted in Him, that He must be right; and so, trusting without questioning, be obeyed.
The Jews considered almost anything carried on the Sabbath as a 'burden' that broke the commandment. Such as that he carried were their only burdens. Most characteristically, it was this external infringement which they saw, and nothing else; it was the Person Who had commanded it Whom they would know, not Him Who had made whole the impotent man. Yet this is quite natural, and perhaps not so different from what we may still witness among ourselves.
It could not have been long after this - most likely, as soon as possible - that the healed man and his Healer met in the Temple. What He then said to him, completed the inward healing. On the ground of his having been healed, let him be whole. As he trusted and obeyed Jesus in the outward cure, so let him now inwardly and morally trust and obey. Here also this looking through the external to the internal, through the temporal to the spiritual and eternal, which is so characteristic of the after-discourse of Jesus, nay, of all His discourses and of His deeds, is most marked. The healed man now knew to Whom he owed faith, gratitude, and trust of obedience; and the consequences of this knowledge must have been incalculable. It would make him a disciple in the truest sense. And this was the only additional lesson which he, as each of us, must learn individually and personally: that the man healed by Christ stands in quite another position, as regards the morally right, from what he did before, not only before his healing, but even before his felt sickness, so that, if he were to go back to sin, or rather, as the original implies, 'continue to sin,' a thing infinitely worse would come to him.
Mary Magdalene and her hometown
"Now it came to pass afterwards that He traveled through all the land, city by city and village by village, preaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with Him, And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary who is called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; And Joanna, wife of Chuza, a steward of Herod; and Susanna, and many others who were ministering to Him from their own substance. (Luke 8:1-3, HBFV)
On this journey He was attended, not only by the Twelve, but by loving grateful women, who ministered to Him of their substance. Among them three are specially named. 'Mary, called Magdalene,' had received from Him special benefit of healing to body and soul. Her designation as Magdalene was probably derived from her native city, Magdala, just as several Rabbis are spoken of in the Talmud as 'Magdalene'.
Magdala, which was a Sabbath-day's journey from Tiberias, was celebrated for its dyeworks, and its manufactories of fine woolen textures, of which eighty are mentioned. Indeed, all that district seems to have been engaged in this industry. It was also reputed for its traffic in turtle-doves and pigeons for purifications - tradition, with its usual exaggeration of numbers, mentioning three hundred such shops. Accordingly, its wealth was very great, and it is named among the three cities whose contributions were so large as to be sent in a wagon to Jerusalem. But its moral corruption was also great, and to this the Rabbis attributed its final destruction. Magdala had a Synagogue.
Its name was probably derived from a strong tower which defended its approaches, or served for outlook. This suggestion is supported by the circumstance, that what seems to have formed part, or a suburb of Magdala, bore the names of 'Fish-tower' and 'Tower of the Dyers.' One at least, if not both these towers, would be near the landing-place, by the Lake of Galilee, and overlook its waters. The necessity for such places of outlook and defense, making the town a Magdala, would be increased by the proximity of the magnificent plain of Gennesaret, of which Josephus speaks in such rapturous terms.
Moreover, only twenty minutes to the north of Magdala descended the so-called 'Valley of Doves' (the Wady Hamâm), through which passed the ancient caravan-road that led over Nazareth to Damascus. The name 'valley of doves' illustrates the substantial accuracy of the Rabbinic descriptions of ancient Magdala. Modern travelers (such as Dean Stanley, Professor Robinson, Farrar, and others) have noticed the strange designation 'Valley of Doves' without being able to suggest the explanation of it, which the knowledge of its traffic in doves for purposes of purification at once supplies. Of the many towns and villages that dotted the shores of the Lake of Galilee, all have passed away except Magdala, which is still represented by the collection of mud hovels that bears the name of Mejdel. The ancient watch-tower which gave the place its name is still there, probably standing on the same site as that which looked down on Jesus and the Magdalene. To this day Magdala is celebrated for its springs and rivulets, which render it specially suitable for dyeworks; while the shell-fish with which these waters and the Lake are said to abound, might supply some of the dye.
Such details may help us more clearly to realize the home, and with it, perhaps, also the upbringing and circumstances of her who not only ministered to Jesus in His Life, but, with eager avarice of love, watched 'afar off' His dying moments, and then sat over against the new tomb of Joseph in which His Body was laid. And the terrible time which followed she spent with her like-minded friends, who in Galilee had ministered to Christ, in preparing those 'spices and ointments' which the Risen Savior would never require.
For, the empty tomb of Jesus was only guarded by Angel-messengers, who announced to the Magdalene and Joanna, as well as the other women, the gladsome tidings that His foretold Resurrection had become a reality. But however difficult the circumstances may have been, in which the Magdalene came to profess her faith in Jesus, those of Joanna must have been even more trying. She was the wife of Chuza, Herod's Steward - possibly, though not likely, the Court-official whose son Jesus had healed by the word spoken in Cana. The absence of any reference to the event seems rather opposed to this supposition. Indeed, it seems doubtful, whether Chuza was a Jewish name. In Jewish writings the designation seems rather used as a by-name ('little pitcher') for a small, insignificant person, than as a proper name. Only one other of those who ministered to Jesus is mentioned by name. It is Susanna, the 'lily.' The names of the other loving women are not written on the page of earth's history, but only on that of the 'Lamb's Book of Life.' And they 'ministered to Him of their substance.' So early did eternal riches appear in the grab of poverty; so soon did love to Christ find its treasure in consecrating it to His Ministry. And ever since has this been the law of His Kingdom, to our great humiliation and yet greater exaltation in fellowship with Him.
Teaching in Parables
"Then He again began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude gathered together to Him, so that He went aboard the ship and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land by the sea. And He taught them many things in parables, and said to them in His teaching . . . " (Mark 4:1-2, HBFV)
We now come to a point where Jesus gives several parables in a row as he is teaching near the Sea of Galilee. Parellel accounts of these parables are found in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.
This internal connection between the Parables and the History of Christ best explains their meaning. One thing, however, is common to all the Parables, and forms a point of connection between them. They are all occasioned by some unreceptiveness on the part of the hearers, and that, even when the hearers are professing disciples. This seems indicated in the reason assigned by Christ to the disciples for His use of parabolic teaching.
"To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are without, all things are done in parables" (Mark 4:11, HBFV)
Little information is to be gained from discussing the etymology of the word Parable. The verb from which it is derived means to project; and the term itself, the placing of one thing by the side of another. Perhaps no other mode of teaching was so common among the Jews as that by Parables. Only in their case, they were almost entirely illustrations of what had been said or taught; while, in the case of Christ, they served as the foundation for His teaching.
In the one case, the light of earth was cast heavenwards, in the other, that of heaven earthwards; in the one case, it was intended to make spiritual teaching appear Jewish and national, in the other to convey spiritual teaching in a form adapted to the standpoint of the hearers. This distinction will be found to hold true, even in instances where there seems the closest parallelism between a Rabbinic and an Evangelic Parable. On further examination, the difference between them will appear not merely one of degree, but of kind, or rather of standpoint. This may be illustrated by the Parable of the woman who made anxious search for her lost coin, which there is an almost literal Jewish parallel. But, whereas in the Jewish Parable the moral is, that a man ought to take much greater pains in the study of the Torah than in the search for coin, since the former procures an eternal reward, while the coin would, if found, at most only procure temporary enjoyment, the Parable of Christ is intended to set forth, not the merit of study or of works, but the compassion of the Savior in seeking the lost, and the joy of Heaven in his recovery. It need scarcely be said, that comparison between such Parables, as regards their spirit, is scarcely possible, except by way of contrast.
In Jewish writings a Parable is introduced by some such formula as this: 'I will tell thee a parable' 'To what is the thing like? To one,' and so on. Often it begins more briefly, thus: 'A Parable. To what is the thing like?' or else, simply: 'To what is the thing like?' Sometimes even this is omitted and the Parable is indicated by the preposition 'to' at the beginning of the illustrative story. Jewish writers extol Parables, as placing the meaning of the Law within range of the comprehension of all men. The 'wise King' had introduced this method, the usefulness of which is illustrated by the Parable of a great palace which had many doors, so that people lost their way in it, till one came who fastened a ball of thread at the chief entrance, when all could readily find their way in and out. Even this will illustrate what has been said of the difference between Rabbinic Parables and those employed by our Lord.
The general distinction between a Parable and a Proverb, Fable and Allegory, cannot here be discussed at length. It will sufficiently appear from the character and the characteristics of the Parables of our Lord. That designation is, indeed, sometimes applied to what are not Parables, in the strictest sense; while it is wanting where we might have expected it. Thus, in the Synoptic Gospels illustrations, and even proverbial sayings, such as 'Physician, heal thyself,' or that about the blind leading the blind, are designated Parables.
Such pictures, familiar to the popular mind, are in the Parable connected with corresponding spiritual realities. Yet, here also, there is that which distinguishes the Parable from the mere illustration. The latter conveys no more than - perhaps not so much as - that which was to be illustrated; while the Parable conveys this and a great deal beyond it to those, who can follow up its shadows to the light by which they have been cast. In truth, Parables are the outlined shadows - large, perhaps, and dim - as the light of heavenly things falls on well-known scenes, which correspond to, and have their higher counterpart in spiritual realities. For, earth and heaven are twin-parts of His works. And, as the same law, so the same order, prevails in them; and they form a grand unity in their relation to the Living God Who reigneth. And, just as there is ultimately but one Law, one Force, one Life, which, variously working, effects and affects all the Phenomenal in the material universe, however diverse it may seem, so is there but one Law and Life as regards the intellectual, moral - nay, and the spiritual. One Law, Force, and Life, binding the earthly and the heavenly into a Grand Unity - the outcome of the Divine Unity, of which it is the manifestation. Thus things in earth and heaven are kindred, and the one may become to us Parables of the other. And so, if the place of our resting be Bethel, they become Jacob's ladder, by which those from heaven come down to earth, and those from earth ascend to heaven.
Another characteristic of the Parables, in the stricter sense, is that in them the whole picture or narrative is used in illustration of some heavenly teaching, and not merely one feature or phase of it, as in some of the parabolic illustrations and proverbs of the Synoptists, or the parabolic narratives of the Fourth Gospel. Thus, in the parabolic illustrations about the new piece of cloth on the old garment, about the blind leading the blind, about the forth-putting of leaves on the fig-tree; or in the parabolic proverb, 'Physician, heal thyself;' or in such parabolic narratives of John, as about the Good Shepherd, or the Vine, in each case, only one part is selected as parabolic. On the other hand, even in the shortest Parables, such as those of the seed growing secretly, the leaven in the meal, and the pearl of great price, the picture is complete, and has not only in one feature, but in its whole bearing, a counterpart in spiritual realities. But, as shown in the Parable of the seed growing secretly, it is not necessary that the Parable should always contain some narrative, provided that not only one feature, but the whole thing related, have its spiritual application.
In view of what has been explained, the arrangement of the Parables into symbolical and typical can only apply to their form, not their substance. In the first of these classes a scene from nature or from life serves as basis for exhibiting the corresponding spiritual reality. In the latter, what is related serves as type, not in the ordinary sense of that term, but in that not unfrequent in Scripture: as example - whether for imitation, or in warning. In the typical Parables the illustration lies, so to speak, on the outside; in the symbolical, within the narrative or scene. The former are to be applied; the latter must be explained.
It is here that the characteristic difference between the various classes of hearers lay. All the Parables, indeed, implied some background of opposition, or else of unreceptiveness. In the record of this first series of them, the fact that Jesus spake to the people in Parables, and only in Parables, is strongly marked. It appears, therefore, to have been the first time that this mode of popular teaching was adopted by him. Accordingly, the disciples not only expressed their astonishment, but inquired the reason of this novel method. The answer of the Lord makes a distinction between those to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, and those to whom all things were done in Parables. But, evidently, this method of teaching could not have been adopted for the people, in contradistinction to the disciples, and as a judicial measure, since even in the first series of Parables three were addressed to the disciples, after the people had been dismissed. On the other hand, in answer to the disciples, the Lord specially marks this as the difference between the teaching vouchsafed to them and the Parables spoken to the people, that the designed effect of the latter was judicial: to complete that hardening which, in its commencement, had been caused by their voluntary rejection of what they had heard. But, as not only the people, but the disciples also, were taught by Parables, the hardening effect must not be ascribed to the parabolic mode of teaching, now for the first time adopted by Christ.
Nor is it a sufficient answer to the question, by what this darkening effect, and hence hardening influence, of the Parable on the people was caused, that the first series, addressed to the multitude, consisted of a cumulation of Parables, without any hint as to their meaning or interpretation. For, irrespective of other considerations, these Parables were at least as easily understood as those spoken immediately afterwards to the disciples, on which, similarly, no comment was given by Jesus. On the other hand, to us at least, it seems clear, that the ground of the different effect of the Parables on the unbelieving multitude and on the believing disciples was not objective, or caused by the substance or form of these Parables, but subjective, being caused by the different standpoint of the two classes of hearers toward the Kingdom of God.
This explanation removes what otherwise would be a serious difficulty. For, it seems impossible to believe, that Jesus had adopted a special mode of teaching for the purpose of concealing the truth, which might have saved those who heard Him. His words, indeed, indicate that such was the effect of the Parables. But they also indicate, with at least equal clearness, that the cause of this hardening lay, not in the parabolic method of teaching, but in the state of spiritual insensibility at which, by their own guilt, they had previously arrived. Through this, what might, and, in other circumstances, would, have conveyed spiritual instruction, necessarily became that which still further and fatally darkened and dulled their minds and hearts. Thus, their own hardening merged into the judgment of hardening.
We are now in some measure able to understand, why Christ now for the first time adopted parabolic teaching. Its reason lay in the altered circumstances of the case. All his former teaching had been plain, although initial. In it He had set forth by Word, and exhibited by fact (in miracles), that Kingdom of God which He had come to open to all believers. The hearers had now ranged themselves into two parties. Those who, whether temporarily or permanently (as the result would show), had admitted these premisses, so far as they understood them, were His professing disciples. On the other hand, the Pharisaic party had now devised a consistent theory, according to which the acts, and hence also the teaching, of Jesus, were of Satanic origin. Christ must still preach the Kingdom; for that purpose had he come into the world. Only, the presentation of that Kingdom must now be for decision. It must separate the two classes, leading the one to clearer understanding of the mysteries of the Kingdom - of what not only seems, but to our limited thinking really is, mysterious; while the other class of hearers would now regard these mysteries as wholly unintelligible, incredible, and to be rejected. And the ground of this lay in the respective positions of these two classes towards the Kingdom.
"For whoever has understanding, to him more shall be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have understanding, even what he has shall be taken away from him." (Matthew 13:12, HBFV)
And the mysterious manner in which they were presented in Parables was alike suited to, and corresponded with, the character of these 'mysteries of the Kingdom,' now set forth, not for initial instruction, but for final decision. As the light from heaven falls on earthly objects, the shadows are cast. But our perception of them, and its mode, depend on the position which we occupy relatively to that Light.
And so it was not only best, but most merciful, that these mysteries of substance should now, also, be presented as mysteries of form in Parables. Here each would see according to his standpoint towards the Kingdom. And this was in turn determined by previous acceptance or rejection of that truth, which had formerly been set forth in a plain form in the teaching and acting of the Christ. Thus, while to the opened eyes and hearing ears of the one class would be disclosed that, which prophets and righteous men of old had desired but not attained, to them who had voluntarily cast aside what they had, would only come, in their seeing and hearing, the final judgment of hardening.
Parable of the Sower
"Now in that same day, Jesus departed from the house and sat down by the sea. And so great a multitude gathered around Him that He went into a ship and sat down, and all the multitude stood on the shore. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow. And as he was sowing, some of the seed fell by the way; and the birds came and devoured them. And some fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up because the soil was not deep enough; But after the sun rose, they were scorched; and because they did not have roots, they dried up.
"And some of the seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. And some fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit - some a hundredfold, and some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. The one who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 13:1-9, HBFV)
On a bright spring morning, Jesus spoke several parables to the multitude crowded on the shore. All these Parables refer, as is expressly stated, to the Kingdom of God; that is, not to any special phase or characteristic of it, but to the Kingdom itself, or, in other words, to its history. They are all such as befit an open-air address.
The first Parable is that of Him Who sowed. We can almost picture to ourselves the Savior seated in the prow of the boat, as He points His hearers to the rich plain over against Him, where the young corn, still in the first green of its growing, is giving promise of harvest. Like this is the Kingdom of Heaven which He has come to proclaim. Like what? Not yet like that harvest, which is still in the future, but like that field over there. The Sower has gone forth to sow the Good Seed. If we bear in mind a mode of sowing peculiar (if we are not mistaken) to those times, the Parable gains in vividness. According to
Jewish authorities there was twofold sowing, as the seed was either cast by the
hand or by means of cattle. In the latter case, a sack with holes was filled with corn and laid on the back of the animal, so that, as it moved onwards, the seed was thickly scattered. Thus it might well be, that it would fall indiscriminately on beaten roadway, on stony places but thinly covered with soil, or where the thorns had not been cleared away, or undergrowth from the thorn-hedge crept into the field, as well as on good ground. The result in each case need not here be repeated. But what meaning would all this convey to the Jewish hearers of Jesus? How could this sowing and growing be like the Kingdom of God? Certainly not in the sense in which they expected it. To them it was only a rich harvest, when all Israel would bear plenteous fruit. Again, what was the Seed, and who the Sower? or what could be meant by the various kinds of soil and their unproductiveness?
To us, as explained by the Lord, all this seems plain. But to them there could be no possibility of understanding, but much occasion for misunderstanding it, unless, indeed, they stood in right relationship to the 'Kingdom of God.' The initial condition requisite was to believe that Jesus was the Divine Sower, and His Word the Seed of the Kingdom: no other Sower than He, no other Seed of the Kingdom than His Word. If this were admitted, they had at least the right premisses for understanding 'this mystery of the Kingdom.'
According to Jewish view the Messiah was to appear in outward pomp, and by display of power to establish the Kingdom. But this was the very idea of the Kingdom, with which Satan had tempted Jesus at the outset of His Ministry. In opposition to it was this 'mystery of the Kingdom,' according to which it consisted in reception of the Seed of the Word. That reception would depend on the nature of the soil, that is, on the mind and heart of the hearers. The Kingdom of God was within: it came neither by a display of power, nor even by this, that Israel, or else the Gospel-hearers, were the field on which the Seed of the Kingdom was sown. He had brought the Kingdom: the Sower had gone forth to sow. This was of free grace - the Gospel. But the seed might fall on the roadside, and so perish without even springing up. Or it might fall on rocky soil, and so spring up rapidly, but wither before it showed promise of fruit. Or it might fall where thorns grew along with, and more rapidly than, it. And so it would, indeed, show promise of fruit; the corn might appear in the ear; but that fruit would not come to ripeness ('bring no fruit to perfection' ), because the thorns growing more rapidly would choke the corn. Lastly, to this threefold faultiness of soil, through which the seed did not spring up at all, or merely sprung up, or just reached the promise, but not the perfection of fruit, corresponded a threefold degree of fruit-bearing in the soil, according to which it brought forth thirtyfold, sixtyfold, or an hundredfold, in the varying measure of its capacity.
If even the disciples failed to comprehend the whole bearing of this 'Mystery of the Kingdom,' we can believe how utterly strange and un-Jewish such a Parable of the Messianic Kingdom must have sounded to them, who had been influenced by the Pharisaic representations of the Person and Teaching of Christ. And yet the while these very hearers were, unconsciously to themselves, fulfilling what Jesus was speaking to them in the Parable!
Whether or not the Parable recorded by Mark alone, concerning the Seed growing unobservedly, was spoken afterwards in private to the disciples, or, as seems more likely, at the first, and to the people by the sea-shore, this appears the fittest place for inserting it.
The meaning of all this seems plain. As the Sower, after the seed has been cast into the ground, can do no more; he goes to sleep at night, and rises by day, the seed the meanwhile growing, the Sower knows not how, and as his activity ceases till the time that the fruit is ripe, when immediately he thrusts in the sickle - so is the Kingdom of God. The seed is sown; but its growth goes on, dependent on the law inherent in seed and soil, dependent also on Heaven's blessing of sunshine and showers, till the moment of ripeness, when the harvest-time is come. We can only go about our daily work, or lie down to rest, as day and night alternate; we see, but know not the how of the growth of the seed. Yet, assuredly it will ripen, and when that moment has arrived, immediately the sickle is thrust in, for the harvest is come. And so also with the Sower. His outward activity on earth was in the sowing, and it will be in the harvesting. What lies between them is of that other Dispensation of the Spirit, till He again send forth His reapers into His field. But all this must have been to those 'without' a great mystery, in no wise compatible with Jewish notions; while to them 'within' it proved a yet greater, and very needful unfolding of the mysteries of the Kingdom, with very wide application of them.
Parable of the Tares
"And He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is compared to a man who was sowing good seed in his field; But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. Now when the blades sprouted and produced fruit, then the tares also appeared. And the servants came to the master of the house and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? Then where did these tares come from?' And he said to them, 'A man who is an enemy has done this.' Then the servants said to him, 'Do you want us to go out and gather them?'
"But he said, 'No, lest while you are gathering the tares, you also uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and at the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers, "Gather the tares first, and bind them into bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my granary." ' " (Matthew 13:24-30, HBFV)
The 'mystery' is made still further mysterious, or else it is still further unfolded, in the next Parable concerning the Tares sown among the Wheat. According to the common view, these Tares represent what is botanically known as the 'bearded Darnel', a poisonous rye-grass, very common in the East, 'entirely like wheat until the ear appears,' or else (according to some), the 'creeping wheat' or 'couch-grass' , of which the roots creep underground and become intertwined with those of the wheat. But the Parable gains in meaning if we bear in mind that, according to ancient Jewish (and, indeed, modern Eastern) ideas, the Tares were not of different seed, but only a degenerate kind of wheat. Whether in legend or symbol, Rabbinism has it that even the ground had been guilty of fornication before the judgment of the Flood, so that when wheat was sown tares sprang up. The Jewish hearers of Jesus would, therefore, think of these tares as degenerate kind of wheat, originally sprung at the time of the Flood, through the corruptness of the earth, but now, alas! so common in their fields; wholly undistinguishable from the wheat, till the fruit appeared: noxious, poisonous, and requiring to be separated from the wheat, if the latter was not to become useless.
With these thoughts in mind, let us now try to realize the scene pictured. Once more we see the field on which the corn is growing - we know not how. The sowing time is past. Thus far the picture is true to nature, since such deeds of enmity were, and still are, common in the East. And so matters would go on unobserved, since, whatever kind of 'tares' may be meant, it would, from their likeness, be for some time impossible to distinguish them from the wheat. What follows is equally true to fact, since, according to the testimony of travellers, most strenuous efforts are always made in the East to weed out the tares. Similarly, in the parable, the servants of the householder are introduced as inquiring whence these tares had come.
The absence of any reference to the rooting up or burning the tares, is intended to indicate, that the only object which the servants had in view was to keep the wheat pure and unmixed for the harvest. But this their final object would have been frustrated by the procedure, which their inconsiderate zeal suggested. It would, indeed, have been quite possible to distinguish the tares from the wheat - and the Parable proceeds on this very assumption - for, by their fruit they would be known. But in the present instance separation would have been impossible, without, at the same time, uprooting some of the wheat. For, the tares had been sown right into the midst, and not merely by the side, of the wheat; and their roots and blades must have become intertwined. And so they must grow together to the harvest. Then such danger would no longer exist, for the period of growing was past, and the wheat had to be gathered into the barn. Then would be the right time to bid the reapers first gather the tares into bundles for burning, that afterwards the wheat, pure and unmixed, might be stored in the garner.
True to life as the picture is, yet the Parable was, of all others, perhaps the most unJewish, and therefore mysterious and unintelligible. Hence the disciples specially asked explanation of this only, which from its main subject they rightly designated as the Parable 'of the Tares.' Yet this was also perhaps the most important for them to understand. For already 'the Kingdom of Heaven is become like' this, although the appearance of fruit has not yet made it manifest, that tares have been sown right into the midst of the wheat. But they would soon have to learn it in bitter experience and as a grievous temptation, and not only as regarded the impressionable, fickle multitude, nor even the narrower circle of professing followers of Jesus, but that, in their very midst there was a traitor.
Most needful, yet most mysterious also, is this other lesson, as the experience of the Church has shown, since almost every period of her history has witnessed, not only the recurrence of the proposal to make the wheat unmixed, while growing, by gathering out the tares, but actual attempts towards it. All such have proved failures, because the field is the wide 'world,' not a narrow sect; because the tares have been sown into the midst of the wheat, and by the enemy; and because, if such gathering were to take place, the roots and blades of tares and wheat would be found so intertwined, that harm would come to the wheat. But why try to gather the tares together, unless from undiscerning zeal? Or what have we, who are only the owner's servants, to do with it, since we are not bidden of Him?
More mysterious still, and, if possible, even more needful, was the instruction that the Enemy who sowed the tares was the Devil. To the Jews, it may seem a mystery, that in 'the Messianic Kingdom of Heaven' there should be a mixture of tares with the wheat, the more mysterious, that the Baptist had predicted that the coming Messiah would thoroughly purge His floor. But to those who were capable of receiving it, it would be explained by the fact that the Devil was 'the Enemy' of Christ, and of His Kingdom, and that he had sowed those tares. This would, at the same time, be the most effective answer to the Pharisaic charge, that Jesus was the Incarnation of Satan, and the vehicle of his influence. And once instructed in this, they would have further to learn the lessons of faith and patience, connected with the fact that the good seed of the Kingdom grew in the field of the world, and hence that, by the very conditions of its existence, separation by the hand of man was impossible so long as the wheat was still growing. Yet that separation would surely be made in the great harvest, to certain, terrible loss of the children of the wicked one, and to the 'sun-like forthshining' in glory of the righteous in the Kingdom prepared by their Father.
The first Parables were intended to present the mysteries of the Kingdom as illustrated by the sowing, growing, and intermixture of the Seed.
The very idea of Parables implies, not strict scientific accuracy, but popular pictorialness. It is characteristic of them to present vivid sketches that appeal to the popular mind, and exhibit such analogies of higher truths as can be readily perceived by all. Those addressed were not to weigh every detail, either logically or scientifically, but at once to recognize the aptness of the illustration as presented to the popular mind.
Parable of the Mustard Seed
"Another parable He presented to them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is compared to a tiny mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; Which indeed is very small among all the seeds; but after it is grown, it is greater than all the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and roost in its branches.'" (Matthew 13:31-32, HBFV)
Thus, as regards the first of these two Parables, the seed of the mustard-plant passed in popular parlance as the smallest of seeds. In fact, the expression, 'small as a mustard-seed,' had become proverbial, and was used, not only by our Lord, but frequently by the Rabbis, to indicate the smallest amount, such as the least drop of blood, the least defilement, or the smallest remnant of sun-glow in the sky.'But when it is grown, it is greater than the garden-herbs.'
This is the first and main point in the Parable. The other, concerning the birds which are attracted to its branches and 'lodge' - literally, 'make tents' - there, or else under the shadow of it, is subsidiary. Pictorial, of course, this trait would be, and we can the more readily understand that birds would be attracted to the branches or the shadow of the mustard-plant, when we know that mustard was in Palestine mixed with, or used as food for pigeons, and presumably would be sought by other birds. And the general meaning would the more easily be apprehended, that a tree, whose wide-spreading branches afforded lodgment to the birds of heaven, was a familiar Old Testament figure for a mighty kingdom that gave shelter to the nations. Indeed, it is specifically used as an illustration of the Messianic Kingdom. Thus the Parable would point to this, so full of mystery to the Jews, so explanatory of the mystery to the disciples: that the Kingdom of Heaven, planted in the field of the world as the smallest seed, in the most humble and unpromising manner, would grow till it far outstripped all other similar plants, and gave shelter to all nations under heaven.
To this extensive power of the Kingdom corresponded its intensive character, whether in the world at large or in the individual. This formed the subject of the last of the Parables addressed at this time to the people - that of the Leaven. We need not here resort to ingenious methods of explaining 'the three measures,' or Seahs, of meal in which the leaven was hid. Three Seahs were an Ephah, of which the exact capacity differed in various districts. According to the so-called 'wilderness,' or original Biblical, measurement, it was supposed to be a space holding 432 eggs, while the Jerusalem ephah was one-fifth, and the Sepphoris (or Galilean) ephah two-fifths, or, according to another authority, one-half larger. To mix 'three measures' of meal was common in Biblical, as well as in later times. Nothing further was therefore conveyed than the common process of ordinary, everyday life. And in this, indeed, lies the very point of the Parable, that the Kingdom of God, when received within, would seem like leaven hid, but would gradually pervade, assimilate, and transform the whole of our common life.
With this most unJewish, and, to the unbelieving multitude, most mysterious characterization of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Savior dismissed the people. Enough had been said to them and for them, if they had but ears to hear. And now He was again alone with the disciples 'in the house' at Capernaum, to which they had returned.
The understanding of the first Parable seems to have shown them how much hidden meaning this teaching conveyed, and to have stimulated their desire for comprehending what the presence and machinations of the hostile Pharisees might, in some measure, lead them to perceive in dim outline. Yet it was not to the Pharisees that the Lord referred. The Enemy was the Devil; the field, the world; the good seed, the children of the Kingdom; the tares, the children of the Wicked One. And most markedly did the Lord, in this instance, not explain the Parable, as the first one, in its details, but only indicate, so to speak, the stepping-stones for its understanding. This, not only to train the disciples, but because - unlike the first Parable - that of the Tares would only in the future and increasingly unfold its meaning.
Parable of Treasure in the Field
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is compared to treasure hidden in a field; which when a man finds, he conceals, and for the joy of finding it, goes and sells everything that he has, and buys that field." (Matthew 13:44, HBFV)
Kindred, or rather closely connected, as are the two Parables of the Treasure hid in the Field and of the Pearl of Great Price - soon to be spoken to the disciples - their differences are sufficiently marked. In the first, one who must probably be regarded as intending to buy a, if not this, field, discovers a treasure hidden there, and in his joy parts with all else to become owner of the field and of the hidden treasure which he had so unexpectedly found. Some difficulty has been expressed in regard to the morality of such a transaction. In reply it may be observed, that it was, at least, in entire accordance with Jewish law. If a man had found a treasure in loose coins among the corn, it would certainly be his, if he bought the corn. If he had found it on the ground, or in the soil, it would equally certainly belong to him, if he could claim ownership of the soil, and even if the field were not his own, unless others could prove their right to it. The law went so far as to adjudge to the purchaser of fruits anything found among these fruits. This will suffice to vindicate a question of detail, which, in any case, should not be too closely pressed in a parabolic history.
Parable of Pearl of Great Price
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a merchant seeking beautiful pearls; Who, after finding one very precious pearl, went and sold everything that he had, and bought it." (Matthew 13:45-46, HBFV)
But to resume our analysis. In the second Parable we have a wise merchantman who travels in search of pearls, and when he finds one which in value exceeds all else, he returns and sells all that he has, in order to buy this unique gem. The supreme value of the Kingdom, the consequent desire to appropriate it, and the necessity of parting with all else for this purpose, are the points common to this and the previous Parable. But in the one case, it is marked that this treasure is hid from common view in the field, and the finder makes unexpected discovery of it, which fills him with joy. In the other case, the merchantman is, indeed, in search of pearls, but he has the wisdom to discover the transcendent value of this one gem, and the yet greater wisdom to give up all further search and to acquire it at the surrender of everything else. Thus, two different aspects of the Kingdom, and two different conditions on the part of those who, for its sake, equally part with all, are here set before the disciples.
Kingdom compared to Fisherman's Net
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a dragnet cast into the sea, gathering in every kind of fish; Which after it was filled was drawn up on shore; and they sat down and collected the good into vessels, and the unfit they threw away. This is the way it will be in the end of the age: the angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the righteous, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:47-50, HBFV)
It became, and would more and more become, them to know, that mere discipleship - mere inclusion in the Gospel - was not sufficient. That net let down into the sea of this world would include much which, when the net was at last drawn to shore, would prove worthless or even hurtful. To be a disciple, then, was not enough. Even here there would be separation. Not only the tares, which the Enemy had designedly sown into the midst of the wheat, but even much that the Gospel-net, cast into the sea, had inclosed, would, when brought to land, prove fit only to be cast away.
So ended that day of Parables to the people by the Lake and in the house at Capernaum to the disciples.
Jesus stills storm on Sea of Galilee
"Now on the same day, when evening came, He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side." And after dismissing the multitude, they took Him with them, as He was already in the ship; and there were many other small ships with Him also. And a violent windstorm came up, and the waves were crashing into the ship so forcefully that it was rapidly filling up.
"Now He was at the stern sleeping on a cushion. And they aroused Him, and said to Him, "Master, don't You care that we are perishing?" And after being awakened, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Silence! Be still." And the wind died, and there was a great calm. And He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? Why do you not have faith?" But they were afraid, and said to one another in great fear, 'Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?'" (Mark 4:35-41, HBFV)
It was the evening of that day of new teaching, and once more great multitudes were gathering to Him. What more, or, indeed, what else, could He have said to those to whom He had all that morning spoken in Parables, which hearing they had not heard nor understood? It was this, rather than weariness after a long day's working, which led to the resolve to pass to the other side. To merely physical weariness Jesus never subordinated his work. If, therefore, such had been the motive, the proposal to withdraw for rest would have come from the disciples, while here the Lord Himself gave command to pass to the other side. In truth, after that day's teaching it was better, alike for these multitudes and for His disciples that He should withdraw. And so 'they took Him even as He was' - that is, probably without refreshment of food, or even preparation of it for the journey. This indicates how readily, nay, eagerly, the disciples obeyed the behest.
Whether in their haste they heeded not the signs of the coming storm; whether they had the secret feeling, that ship and sea which bore such burden were safe from tempest; or, whether it was one of those storms which so often rise suddenly, and sweep with such fury over the Lake of Galilee, must remain undetermined. He was in 'the ship' - whether that of the sons of Jonas, or of Zebedee - the well-known boat, which was always ready for His service, whether as pulpit, resting-place, or means of journeying. But the departure had not been so rapid as to pass unobserved; and the ship was attended by other boats, which bore those that would fain follow Him.
In the stern of the ship, on the low bench where the steersman sometimes takes rest, was pillowed the Head of Jesus. Weariness, faintness, hunger, exhaustion, asserted their mastery over His true humanity. He, Whom earliest Apostolic testimony proclaimed to have been in 'the form of God,' slept. Even this evidences the truth of the whole narrative. If Apostolic tradition had devised this narrative to exhibit His Divine Power, why represent Him as faint and asleep in the ship; and, if it would portray Him as deeply sleeping for very weariness, how could it ascribe to Him the power of stilling the storm by His rebuke? Each of these by themselves, but not the two in their combination, would be as legends are written. Their coincidence is due to the incidence of truth. Indeed, it is characteristic of the History of the Christ, and all the more evidential that it is so evidently undesigned in the structure of the narrative, that every deepest manifestation of His Humanity is immediately attended by highest display of His Divinity, and each special display of His Divine Power followed by some marks of His true Humanity. Assuredly, no narrative could be more consistent with the fundamental assumption that He is the God-Man.
Thus viewed, the picture is unspeakably sublime. Jesus is asleep, for very weariness and hunger, in the stern of the ship, His head on that low wooden bench, while the heavens darken, the wild wind swoops down those mountain-gorges, howling with hungry rage over the trembling sea; the waves rise and toss, and lash and break over the ship, and beat into it, and the white foam washes at His feet His Humanity here appears as true as when He lay cradled in the manger; His Divinity, as when the sages from the East laid their offerings at His Feet. But the danger is increasing. They who watched it, might be tempted to regard the peaceful rest of Jesus, not as indicative of Divine Majesty - as it were, sublime consciousness of absolute safety - because they did not fully realize Who He was. In that case it would, therefore, rather mean absolute weakness in not being able, even at such a time, to overcome the demands of our lower nature; real indifference, also, to their fate - not from want of sympathy, but of power. In short, it might lead up to the inference that the Christ was a no-Christ, and the Kingdom of which he had spoken in Parables, not His, in the sense of being identified with His Person.
It is not easy to understand what the disciples had really expected, when they wakened the Christ with their 'Lord, save us - we perish!' Certainly, not that which actually happened, since not only wonder, but fear, came over them as they witnessed it. Probably theirs would be a vague, undefined belief in the unlimited possibility of all in connection with the Christ. A belief this, which seems to us quite natural as we think of the gradually emerging, but still partially cloud-capped height of His Divinity, of which, as yet, only the dim outlines were visible to them. A belief this, which also accounts for the co-existing, not of disbelief, nor even of unbelief, but of inability of apprehension, which, as we have seen, characterized the bearing of the Virgin-Mother.